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Guide dogs’ charity loses £20m in stocks

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has announced it will close all its residential training centres after losing over £20 million on the stock market. At least 150 jobs are under threat as a result of this decision.

The charity also set out a range of radical proposals to cut costs and deliver better services by ‘fast tracking’training operations.

A two-year programme to introduce 31 district teams to replace 15 training centres - two of which were closed at Middlesbrough and Exeter earlier this year - will take help to visually impaired people closer to home, the charity said.

Many redundancies are expected to be among domestic cleaning, catering, administration, maintenance and kennel staff at the training centres. There will be a 90-day consultation period before the job losses are finalised.

Guide Dogs’ chief executive Geraldine Peacock said: “It is imperative that we keep pace with the changing needs of our service users whilst also securing our long-term financial future.

“The proposals we are now putting forward will enable us to be more flexible in our local service delivery and put our finances on a firm footing.

“By removing much of the association’s fixed overheads, we will be investing in people and services, not bricks and mortar.”

The charity confirmed its finances have been hot hard in the past few years.

It lost £20 million on its stocks portfolio last year and overspent its £40 million income by £16 million. The charity had been seeking to reverse an annual overspend of £11 million above voluntary contributions for the past decade.

The association receives no statutory funds or grants and is solely dependent on fundraising, donations and legacies.

Forecasts indicate that legacy income will decline in the coming years, the charity said.
Earlier this year, it announced the closure of two of its 15 residential training centres.

Occupancy rates at the centres had dropped to about 11% this year.

Middlesbrough and Exeter were the first to go, replaced by new district teams in an effort to provide a more localised service.

Many blind people told the charity they would prefer to be introduced to new guide dogs in their own homes rather than having to book into residential centres for three weeks.

The charity is exploring the possibility of hiring wings of small hotels or university halls of residence during holiday times to replace residential facilities for those who would rather have intensive training.

The Middlesbrough centre alone cost £1million a year to run and yet catered for only about 100 users a year - an average cost of £10,000 per person which the charity feels was unsustainable in the long-term.

That facility was replaced by four district teams, one each in Hull, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

Staff visit blind people in their own home, introduce them to their new dogs and train them both over a three-week period as well as providing lifelong support from a more local base.

It is now proposed that the residential training centres at Belfast, Cardiff, Larkhall, Liverpool, Maidstone, Nottingham, Sheffield, Southampton and Wokingham will be phased out over the next two years.

Additionally, residential training will cease at Leamington Spa, Bolton, Forfar and London, although these centres will remain open to provide initial training for all the association’s guide dogs.